Best of EN: ‘How Can I Get Out of This Funk?’

Mental health and wellness coach Sarah Carlan, MSW, addresses how riders can juggle their daily responsibilities with riding — and feeling like we’re not falling short.

We recently worked with mental health and wellness coach Sarah Carlan, MSW, on a column addressing common mental health hurdles eventers often face. We’re pleased to bring Sarah back as a columnist here on EN, and we invite you to submit your mental health questions for a future edition. Please email [email protected] to submit your question – you may remain anonymous if you wish. If you’d like more from Sarah, join EN on Patreon and take part in a candid video Q&A with Sally Spickard and Sarah Carlan this Thursday, February 18, at 6 p.m. EST. This event is free and open to EN Patrons onlyclick here to learn more about Patreon.

Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Q: It seems like I can’t seem to juggle all of my responsibilities – work, riding, kids, school, myself, friends – with much success. I always feel like something is being neglected, and meanwhile my riding goals seem to be impossible to achieve. How can I get out of this funk and feel more effective?

Horse people are always juggling so many balls – work, riding, kids, etc. How can we possibly do it all and not feel like we are falling short on one or all fronts? Here are a few things to try:

Look at the mountains not the valleys.

I know that on the outside it looks like everyone else has it together, but they don’t. We are all falling apart in our own special way and are trying like hell not to let other people notice. Most of the time,  however, we are only falling short of our own expectations. In order to “make it”, (and by “make it”, I mean manage to get yourself and your horse to a few shows a year in one piece) in our sport you need to be driven. You need to have what it takes to push yourself a little harder than the average.

With drive can also come a dash of perfectionism: “If it’s not done well, then I’m failing”. When we see the world through this lens we will always see the things we are not doing well and miss the things we are doing well. Our brain is designed to notice the mistakes so that we can correct them; this is called Negative Attribution Effect. If it wasn’t wired that way, we would trip over the same door jamb every time we walked in a room. However, sometimes we need to rewire our brain so it can help us out. At the end of the day, try to practice recounting what you did accomplish rather than what you didn’t accomplish. You will be amazed by what you got done!

Adjust your expectations.

Next try to right-size your to do list so that it reflects what you can actually do. If you set a jump for your horse and he knocks it down every time, we would think of ourselves as cruel if we didn’t adjust something. Maybe we lower the height, give him a better preparation, or even check to see if our saddle is fitting well. How come we don’t do that for ourselves?

If, at the end of every day, we feel like we have dropped a ball (or many), maybe we need to adjust something (or a few things). Maybe we need to ask for help with things around the house, or be satisfied with store-bought treats for our kids’ classroom birthdays, or maybe tonight is takeout night or breakfast for dinner. Each of us has something that we push ourselves to do, and if we gave it up no one would die. So find a way to lower the bar for yourself. Everyone will be happier.

Treat yourself like your own best friend.

Have compassion for yourself when you inevitably fall short. We are human beings and therefore it is inevitable that we will fail, but when we do we have a choice about how we treat ourselves. If a friend came to us and said, “I am having such a hard time fitting everything in and I just forgot about a deadline at work”, would we tell her she was stupid and lazy, or would we reassure her that she is working her butt off and will recover from this mistake? When we do treat ourselves with compassion we have the energy and motivation to do better next time, but when we beat ourselves up we are much less likely to make the necessary change to improve.

Find a way to protect your riding time.

For many of us, finding the time to ride without interruption seems like a pie-in-the-sky dream. We are squeezing it in between work, kid pickup, and dinner, and so the littlest upset could derail the day and force us to cancel on our horse. When my kids were younger I would put them down for naps in the tack-room and then prop the monitor up in the window so I could see the lights moving when they woke up. It gave me the time to ride, but I was always distracted, and if they didn’t want to nap that day I was out of luck. I had a choice – I could seriously lower my expectations for my riding goals, (ie., if I get to W/T/C for 10-20 min 3 times a week I am a super star) or I could learn to carve out protected time. I started scheduling riding on my calendar like I would a work meeting and do all the same things to protect the time. For some people it means finding child-care; for others it means putting their email on auto-reply – but plan it and protect it, because you and your horse deserve it.